The Return of the King (2003),
originally titled The War of the Ring by Tolkien, opens with a
background into the Gollum character, showing how he came to possess the
Ring and how his greed for it eventually destroyed him. Capturing all
the power and poetry of Tolkein’s original vision, this final instalment
brings the series to a close in spectacular if not exactly economical
fashion. The film proved an enormous hit with both fans and critics
alike, grossing well over a billion dollars worldwide and winning all
eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best
Picture, Costume Design and Visual Effects. The battle scenes in this
concluding chapter are arguably the most expansive and epic of
the series, with the siege of Minas Thirith at the hands of the Morgul
army incorporating some of the most impressive special effects ever
committed to celluloid.
As anyone who has seen the trilogy will
know, all three films are endowed with innumerable visual strengths.
The captivating cinematography and lush, rolling landscapes remain as
stunning as ever, from the icily impassable Mount Caradhras to the
sweeping grasslands of Rohan. All this would have been irrelevant
without the efforts of a first-rate and supremely cast; of course in
this regard Lord of the Rings also fails to disappoint. The
depth of talent is nearly unparalleled, from the smouldering intensity
conjured by Viggo Mortensen as Strider to Christopher Lee’s chillingly
evil turn as Saruman. The ensemble cast includes the likes of Orlando
Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellan, Hugo Weaving and Liv Tyler, and all
are at the top of their game. The award-winning Andy Surkis’s voicework
as Gollum is likewise highly effective, as are the shrieks and Black
Speech of Sauron and his terrifying Ringwraiths.
That being said, the intervening decade has
perhaps been least kind to The Return of the King. Containing
three times as many effects shots as Fellowship, the concluding
chapter in the trilogy at times feels a little overburdened with
computer wizardry. Considering the theatrical cut runs almost three and
a half hours, it also isn’t the breeziest and fast-paced of affairs.
Nonetheless it concludes the storyline a way that is satisfying,
believable and powerful, which after investing so much in the characters
and their quest is exactly what the viewer will be hoping for. The wide
battle shots are magnificent, and the 1080p picture quality remains
clear and crisp at all times.
On the audio front the single DTS-HD Master
Audio 6.1 ES track is powerful and immersive, with impressive contrast
and directionality. Howard Shore’s score is suitably expansive, and the
appearance of Clint Mansell’s extraordinarily powerful ‘Lux Aeterna’
theme lends additional potency to the already epic fight sequences.
It feels almost miserly to bring it up at
this point considering the achievement represented by Lord of the
Rings, but the bare-bones release just doesn’t do justice to the
material. The arrival of Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray should
have been the Blu-ray event of the year, and a 10/10 score should have
been a no-brainer. Instead it feels a little mercenary on the part of
Roadshow, who are once more forcing fans to fork out twice if they want
the extended edition or anything at all in the way of bonus features.
Still there is no faulting the quality of the films themselves, and if
the extended cuts are released on BD to coincide with Guillermo Del
Toro’s rendering of The Hobbit, as has been speculated, the
current release could be the only one seen in high-definition for the
better part of two years.